Kids do a lot more at school than sit at desks and listen to teachers. At recess time, younger children play dodgeball, kickball, and swing on the monkey bars. Older students participate in sports like football, which can be even riskier. More than fourteen million of our children suffer injuries every year in the United States. This figure is confirmed by the North Carolina Department of Insurance and is supported by a number of other research studies.
More than a quarter of these injuries to children – over 3.5 million injuries – happen on or adjacent to school properties. A separate study conducted by the Alpert Medical School at Brown University and published in the journal Pediatrics tells us that approximately 90,000 children are treated every year in emergency rooms across the country for injuries that are the result of violence at schools.
WHEN A CHILD IS INJURED AT SCHOOL, WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?
When a child is injured at school – and when that injury is something more serious than a skinned knee or a light bruise – it’s natural and right for parents to ask if they have any legal recourse. In some cases in Indiana, they do. The first step for the parent of an injured child is determining who is responsible and if the injury was the result of an unpreventable accident, a preventable accident caused by someone’s negligence, or an intentional act.
An intentional injury might be the result of bullying by another student or by someone employed at the school. If a student bullies and injures another child, the parents of the bully may in some cases face liability. If school authorities were aware of the bullying and did nothing to stop it, they may share that liability. If an employee of a school intentionally harms a child, the school district itself could potentially be liable for its failure to check thoroughly the backgrounds of prospective employees or its failure to provide proper supervision or training to employees.
And if your child’s injury was an accidental rather than an intentional injury, the school district may still face liability if the accident was caused by some failure or negligence on the part of the school district or the school’s employees. Schools are responsible for providing a generally and reasonably safe environment for children, and because school districts typically handle thousands of students every school day, some kind of negligence is inevitably sometimes going to happen.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED NEGLIGENCE BY A SCHOOL DISTRICT?
In general, if a student is injured because a school has failed to adhere to accepted standards of care in providing a reasonably safe environment for students, the school may be considered negligent. A school bus crash with injuries, for example, could be caused by the bus driver’s negligence, because the driver was inadequately trained, because the bus was maintained improperly or designed negligently, or because of another driver’s negligence.
Injuries on a school playground or on an athletic field could be the result of inadequate supervision, defective playground or athletic equipment, or poor maintenance of that equipment. A school district might also be liable for food poisoning if food is improperly stored or prepared. Injuries linked to natural or man-made disasters could be the result of inadequate planning by school authorities or a failure to carry out emergency procedures in a proper and timely manner. These, of course, are only a few examples of the many ways a child can be injured at a school.
If the school where a student is injured is a private school in Indiana, parents should seek legal advice from an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney. If parents can prove that their child was injured intentionally or as a result of negligence at a private school, those parents are entitled to complete reimbursement for the child’s medical expenses and all related damages. However, if the school where a student is injured is an Indiana public school, the legal situation is somewhat more complicated.
WHY ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS IMMUNE FROM SOME KINDS OF LAWSUITS?
A public school district is a governmental entity, and governmental entities usually have legal immunity from negligence lawsuits. In many cases, schools and their employees cannot be held liable for a student’s injuries, even when the negligence is undeniable. A school district’s immunity from negligence lawsuits may seem unfair, especially when a child has been harmed, but think of it this way. Without legal immunity, athletic programs, chemistry labs, and shop class would be too risky for the schools to offer.
And if a child is injured at school, immunity applies only to the school district and school district employees. Indiana public schools are not immune to personal injury lawsuits that are the result of the negligence of a school’s volunteers, contractors, and any other non-employees. Indiana public schools, in fact, have a legal obligation to offer reasonable protection to their students from any negligent actions that may be committed on a school’s premises by non-employees.
Moreover, the legal immunity enjoyed by governmental agencies and entities, including Indiana school districts, is limited in this state. The law in Indiana specifically addresses negligence claims against public employees and governmental entities, and Indiana law, in fact, specifies the types of incidents where immunity can be waived and parents may proceed with a personal injury claim. Product liability claims can be filed against the manufacturers of defective or dangerous playground and athletic equipment, lab equipment, school buses, and bus parts.
Under Indiana law, the total liability of governmental entities and employees for any single negligence claim cannot exceed $700,000 for a personal injury or $5 million for a wrongful death. Indiana school districts have an ethical and legal obligation to maintain classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, athletic fields, and school buses for safety, and to check comprehensively and completely the backgrounds of teachers and other prospective employees before hiring.
If a child is injured intentionally or through an act of negligence at a public school in Indiana, parents should immediately seek the counsel of an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney to determine whether or not immunity applies or if liability can be assigned to a party other than the school district. Indiana’s children are precious, and they deserve to be our most important priority.